Kimi Raikkonen, no fan of the spotlight, is the man of the moment as F1's summer slumber ends this weekend in Belgium.
The Finn's manager has ruled out a move to Red Bull, but some sources at Spa-Francorchamps think the fact the team has put off announcing Daniel Ricciardo's 2014 deal is a sign Raikkonen might still be in the running.
At the same time, Lotus has made clear it wants to keep the 33-year-old on board, while reports continue to insist there is a real chance Raikkonen will return to Ferrari.
Germany's Sport Bild even reports that Raikkonen recently admitted to friends during an alcohol-fuelled night out in Helsinki that he will be wearing red again in 2014.
Reporting about the Helsinki party, the German broadcaster RTL suggested Ferrari has put a EUR 11 million contract on the table, including bonuses and sponsorship of his motocross team.
As ever in the 'silly season', though, there are conflicting reports.
Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat is now quoting Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson as saying the driver actually wants to stay at Lotus in 2014.
"Kimi likes it at Lotus," said Robertson. "But we are waiting for information on certain issues that are still outstanding.
"About Kimi's future, the ball is in Lotus' court."
And the German newspaper Welt reports that talks between Ferrari and Nico Hulkenberg, about replacing the Brazilian Felipe Massa, have now kicked off.
Sick Raikkonen skips Spa spotlight
With speculation over his future at melting point, Kimi Raikkonen called in sick on Thursday.
Earlier, as the F1's media spotlight prepared to shine on the Finn as he chooses between Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari for 2014, Reuters correspondent Alan Baldwin described the 2007 world champion as "the least garrulous" driver on the grid.
And yet, Baldwin added, he is "the man everyone is talking about" ahead of the Belgian grand prix, the first race after F1's forced August slumber.
Raikkonen's media rounds would have been packed to the rafters on Thursday, but the 33-year-old is not yet at Spa.
Lotus said Raikkonen is unwell, but will be present for Friday's free practice sessions.
On the flip-side, as three teams seemingly tussle for Raikkonen's services, Felipe Massa is fighting simply to keep his seat at Ferrari.
Reporting from Spa, Guardian correspondent Paul Weaver said the Italian team has given the Brazilian two more races - Spa and Monza - to prove he should stay beyond his 2013 contract.
At the very same time, Germany's Welt newspaper is reporting that negotiations between Ferrari and on-the-market Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg have begun.
Alonso insists 'zero problems' with Montezemolo
In the apparently unwell Kimi Raikkonen's absence, it was left to the other drivers on Thursday to talk about the 2014 'silly season'.
The big rumour is that Finn Raikkonen, also courted by Red Bull and Lotus, could be poised to return to Ferrari.
"I have no problem with having any teammate," Fernando Alonso is quoted at Spa by the Spanish sports newspaper AS.
But according to the wilder rumours, it could be Alonso himself who is not wearing red in 2014.
The Spaniard was publicly rebuked by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo in the wake of his post-race comments in Hungary.
But Alonso on Thursday said it was all a misunderstanding.
"Our relationship is better than ever," he insisted. "We talked almost every day of the summer, not only about F1, but about holidays, family, Madrid, Juventus.
"The relationship is great, he is a great motivator, he is the father of the Ferrari family and he knows how to keep the environment in the team good.
"There are zero problems," Alonso added.
"I think what happened is he got bad information, as we have looked into what he thought had been said in Hungary, but I think it was the right time for (the press to report) rumours and sell many newspapers."
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel on Thursday admitted reports Raikkonen is not coming to the world champion team in 2014 are disappointing.
"Obviously I've learnt from the press that it looks like it won't be the case," he said.
"Kimi would have been nice in many ways but now it's not happening it doesn't make much sense to talk about it," added Vettel.
33-year-old Raikkonen's other theoretical options are Ferrari or Lotus.
Romain Grosjean, his current Lotus teammate, said he is ready to step into the lead role in 2014 if Raikkonen does jump ship.
"I've always said that losing Kimi would be a loss for the team," said the Frenchman.
"At the moment, we have a good way of working together. But if he leaves then we'll be more than happy to get the lead and keep Lotus where it is or still improve," Grosjean added.
Hulkenberg 'ready' for Ferrari move
Nico Hulkenberg on Thursday insisted he is "ready" should Ferrari call him up for 2014.
Earlier, Germany's Welt newspaper said negotiations between the Italian team and the Sauber driver have begun.
At the same time, Britain's Guardian newspaper said Ferrari will decide after this weekend's Belgian grand prix, and then Monza a fortnight later, whether or not to replace Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Asked at Spa on Thursday about the rumours, Hulkenberg - who switched from Force India to the Ferrari-powered Sauber over the winter - told the broadcaster Sky: "I would feel ready and I do feel ready."
But he said he is in talks with multiple teams: "I wouldn't name it (Ferrari) the ultimate drive but obviously it is a big team with a big history.
"I wouldn't exclude anyone at this point, we are talking to different teams and evaluating all the options, and when the time is right we will decide what we think is best for my future," Hulkenberg added.
It might be suggested that, as he is linked with three top teams Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen is the cork in the bottle of the 2014 driver market.
But Hulkenberg insists the market is "not neccessarily dependent all on him (Raikkonen)".
Grid grooves at Spa worry Vettel
Drivers and engineers were surprised on Thursday when they inspected the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Diagonal grooves have been cut into the asphalt covering the entire upper half of the starting grid, from first to twelfth places.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said championship leader Sebastian Vettel is worried the grooves might disadvantage those who qualify best for the Belgian grand prix.
"There is probably a disadvantage for the start, because you will have less tyre on the track," said the German.
Correspondent Michael Schmidt asked F1 race director Charlie Whiting for an explanation.
"In this area we needed better drainage for when it rains," he said.
"We have good experience with this method from Brazil," added Whiting.
He said he is not concerned that the upper half of the grid will face grip problems on Sunday afternoon.
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